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Kosovo-Serbia, the exchange of territories the end of the taboo

Proposed by the Serbian and Kosovo presidents following an approach by the US president, the project delimits the frontiers to the west of the Balkans and is presented as a stabilising solution after twenty years of intransigent conflict. However, in the zones concerned the inhabitants fear a return of ethnic cleansing.

Twenty years after the end of the armed conflict in the former Yugoslavia, a change of frontiers is the new solution in the Balkans. Hashim Thaci, president of Kosovo, and Aleksander Vucic, president of Serbia, met and their plan which is not fully clarified, consists of returning the north of Kosovo near Mitrovica, to Serbia which is populated principally of Serbians against the region of Presovo which is populated mostly by Albanians with a transfer to Kosovo. The correction of borders will be part of a final stabilising and mutually agreed plan.

Ten years after an independent Kosovo was declared the country cannot function without international assistance. Endemic corruption plus the fact that Belgrade does not recognise the state of Kosovo, in its former autonomous region does not help. Russia blocks the alignment of Kosovo to the UN and 86 states do not not recognise an accord with Serbia. Hashim Thaci expects an accord with Serbia by spring 2019 with 80% of Kosovo and 98% of the population in Presovo valley in agreement.

Bujanovac, located in a valley between Kosovo and Macedonia, has an Albanian majority with fully intermingled Serbian and Albanian villages, the town is multi-ethnic with Serbs, Albanians and Roma fully integrated. It is expected that this territory would rejoin Kosovo without displacing the resident Serbs. Hatred and suspicion are expected to be ameliorated. John Bolton, adviser to the current US president, did not object to the exchange of territories. Discretely, France and the European Union, support this initiative, Germany, declared alarm at the risks of contaminating Bosnia and Macedonia should this project be implemented.

Mitrovica, a divided city with 100,000 Serbs to the north of the city and 70,000 Albanians to the south was the scene of most violent confrontations and the symbol of the Balkan wars with 13,000 deaths during the 1998-9 conflict. Albanian speakers constitute 90% of the Kosovo population. Several hundred Albanians still live in north Mitrovica, 'We are in fear of them, we must protect our children.' Italian police monitor the inevitable confrontations. Mitrovica north is in dispute between Belgrade and Pristina, people do not pay for imports or water or electricity. Property prices suffer.

In the Balkans the Albanians and the Serbs are not peaceful. The north of Kosovo contains infrastructure vital for Kosovo, the lead and zinc mines of Trepca along with the reservoir of Gazivode, the principal water reservoir for the country. Both communities frequent their own schools and hospitals and the Serbs visit the supermarkets to the south which are cheaper and well supplied.

Serbians in Gracanica, near Pristina, will not be subject to Albanian rule ever unlike those in areas where the cities are contiguous with the Serbian border.

In the Balkans the frontiers are the result of hatred. Changing the borders forces ethnic cleansing. The idea of exchanging territories is mad. 90% of people are against this proposal. Preparing the frontier for the exchange could be problematic. Serbians say the Albanians want to take everything as a prelude to a 'Greater Albania.'

Biljaca is Albanian, its 50,000 Albanian inhabitants are fully attached to Kosovo, they recount the impositions of Belgrade - the lack of Albanian speaking doctors, their diplomas are not recognised, the humiliation of crossing the border, the replacement of vehicle registration plates for Kosovan cars with Serbian plates. The Serbs consider them strangers.

Everything is better in Serbia politically and socially so it is better to vote for the re-attachment. Most young people do not care, they want to go west to search for work. In ten years everyone will be gone, then only nationalists will be interested in retracing the frontiers of a disinherited corner of the Balkans.

Source Géopolitique, Kosovs-Serbie, Echange de terrtitoires, fin d'un tabou, Le Monde, Lundi Septembre 24, 2018

Geopolitique; Kosovo-Serbia an exchange of territories la fin d'un tabou; LeMonde Septembre 24 2018

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